Friday, April 25, 2003
Retired Municipal Court Judge Robert Wallerstein, Who Survived Re-Election Challenge, Dies at 76
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Retired Los Angeles Municipal Court Judge Robert Wallerstein died yesterday at age 76.
A court spokesperson reported the death of the jurist, who survived an election challenge in 1994 and retired two years later. A memorial service is planned, but arrangements are not yet final, the spokesperson said.
A Chicago native who came to California with his family when he was 15, Wallerstein attended UCLA from 1947 to 1950 but left without a degree. He worked for a newspaper in Las Vegas, then returned to Los Angeles and attended Southwestern University School of Law, graduating in 1962.
He worked at World Savings and Loan Association as a staff lawyer until 1968, then was a partner in a succession of local firms. He focused first on business law and later on entertainment, representing mostly writers and producers.
He was one of five “midnight judges” appointed to the Los Angeles Municipal Court by then-Gov. Jerry Brown on Jan. 2, 1983—Brown’s last day in office. He later explained that he was a Democrat but was never politically active, and that a friend and client who “knew somebody who knew somebody” in the governor’s office helped him secure the appointment.
He served a stint on assignment to the Court of Appeal. He later called it the worst three months of his life, and also disclaimed interest in elevation to the Superior Court.
As a Municipal Court judge, he heard both civil and criminal cases in the Van Nuys courthouse. It was one of his civil cases that led to his becoming the rare incumbent to face a challenge at election time.
In a 1991 bench trial, Wallerstein ruled that Standard Planning Corp., an insurance marketing firm, failed to prove its contention that it suffered damages as a result of Wells Fargo Bank having wrongfully honored a $4,000 check despite a stop payment order.
Standard Planning claimed damages in excess of the $25,000 threshold of the old municipal court jurisdiction, but a Superior Court judge found there was no possibility of a verdict in excess of the threshold and transferred it to Wallerstein’s court.
Since the bank conceded error and offered reimbursement, Wallerstein said, there were no damages.
When the judge came up for re-election three years later, Woodland Hills businessman and attorney Norman Goldberg, the owner of Standard Planning, filed to run against him. Goldberg claimed the case was worth $1 million, including punitive damages, and that Wallerstein should have sent it back to the Superior Court regardless of an Appellate Department ruling upholding the transfer.
Wallerstein was the only judge of his court challenged that year. He was rated well qualified by the County Bar.
A MetNews editorial endorsing his re-election described him as “self-effacing and imbued with a sense of fairness,” urging voters to support “a seasoned, dedicated, and able jurist.”
Wallerstein won easily, garnering 75 percent of the vote.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company